On Saturday the 14th of September I woke up with the conviction that no matter what happened I would smile the entire day. I would not give myself a single moment to process the fact that today would mean that I was less than 48 hours from the moment I would stand at security and cry as I hugged my friends goodbye at Heathrow.
I decided that for this event I wanted something special and decided to tackle a project I have wanted to do for nearly two years. My spencer is fashioned after the one worn by Louise of Prussia. It is the first time I have ever used proper tailoring methods and I now have a great respect for pad stitching. My bonnet was created last February for the Keetje Hodshon Regency Ball in Haarlem by the magnificent Lynn McMasters with a few feathers added on top by yours truly.
I started off the morning with an interview by a Japanese morning show being televised live in Tokyo. I thrilled the reporter by replying in my rusty Japanese. I was then borrowed for another interview for a morning show in Bath. During the promenade I took immense pleasure in photo-bombing tourist photos, especially throwing up the peace sign with Japanese tourist who nearly fainted in shock.
After the promenade a man remarked that I looked like Lydia Bennet rushing off towards the soldiers, I countered by saying that I was indeed Fanny Price searching for Edmund. A complete stranger stopped and turned around to say ‘My dear there is no way you could be plain Fanny, you are Mary Crawford without the attitude’. As a Jane Austen devotee (especially to Mansfield Park) this is one of the most touching compliments I have ever received and I will carry it with me. I was utterly taken aback (in the most positive of ways) and a friend had to make apologies for my sudden loss of speech and thank her for me.
Through friends I was able to find photos of me on three major news websites including The Guardian which I am completely tickled and honoured by. The most amazing moment was when I poured myself a cup of smoky earl grey from my dwindling stock of Fortnum & Mason tea jar and settled down on Flickr to peruse the photos.
Words cannot describe my utter shock at finding so many photos of myself (especially the ones with the little girls. I LOVE photos with children). The best moment came when I came across the page of Steve Wassell ( All rights reserved by fat-freddies-cat ). I don’t want to use the word shy (because I am definitely not) but I am usually very aware of my smile because when I am happy I have the tendency to grin very wide. But to see this photo and see how happy I was reflected in my eyes is completely priceless. Mr. Wassell, I am unsure if you will ever see this but I cannot find the words to thank you enough for the gift you have given me. You have allowed me a form of closure, I am able to look back on this weekend and recognize it for the truly magical time it was. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend my last few days with my dearest and closest friends before flying off with a smile on my heart and in my eyes.
Caution: Work in progress
When I received my invitation to the Hampshire Regency Dancers Ball I only read two lines before I decided I had to attend:
'As Jane Austen wrote in 'Pride & Prejudice' “Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?”
Where better to dance a reel & celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel than at this year’s Hampshire Regency Dancers Ball’.
An amusing thing happened late Saturday night. I had just finished the Swiss Allemande and was dancing down the dark hallway in search of a glass of water when I heard someone behind me gasp. I turned around to find the head of the house at the end of the hallway staring at me with his hand over his heart as if he has seen a ghost. I finally broke the silence to enquire if he was alright as he was quite pale but this caused him to step back against the wall. Very worried I walked towards him which seemed to alarm him greatly. Then I realized that in my white gown in the darkened hallway of Chawton House I must have looked like the ghost that was haunting the home. Which I of course took as a grand compliment! I wanted to achieve a floating gossamer feel for the ball. While making this gown I frequently practiced the Duke of Kent’s Waltz to ensure that it floated properly.
My evening gown is a direct copy of the following fashion plate (click the link): 1817- Ackermann’s Repository Series2 Vol 3 - April Issue
My exam for my Bachelors Degree is at 9:55 BST and what no one knows is that what I am wearing is the same outfit I wore three years ago in Singapore to my interview for acceptance into Wimbledon College of Art. I thought it was fitting to close this adventure with what I wore to start it. Please say a small prayer for me or spare a kind thought. My nerves are dancing down my spine.
In writing an account of the Ball for The Graphic, Lady Violet Greville felt, as she spoke of the Princess of Wales, constrained to quote the 16th-century French author Brantôme who described Marguerite de Valois as “robed in cloth of silver with long sleeves, her hair richly dressed and her whole appearance of such grace and majesty that she resembled more a goddess from heaven than a Queen upon earth.”
At long last I can share my costume with the world. Eight months ago I entered my final year at Wimbledon College of Art studying Costume Interpretation. Our first assignment was to create a costume to compliment the new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace entitled ‘In Fine Style’. As I walked around the Red Room during the Da Vinci exhibition I could never imagine that just a short while later my own costume would grace this majestic room.
I chose to recreate the fancy dress costume of Alexandra, Princess of Wales dressed as Marguerite de Valois worn to the Duchess of Devonshire House Ball in 1897. As I was the intern for The Tudor Tailor last year and helped to make the costumes and work on the photo shoot for the new book The Tudor Child (I cried when I found my name in the Acknowledgements) I was requested to create the costume of the Hon. Louvima Knollys who accompanied Alexandra as her page.
The skirt and bodice is entirely finished by hand. I started with eight small appliqués to build my shape and completed the surface decoration by hand based on the photos. I thought after this costume I would never wish to string another pearl or couch another row again but for my final costume I am still working on beading. I was able to study close ups of the image at the National Archives and I was graciously granted permission to study hi-res images of the 4 existing photographs of Alexandra. Both of these allowed me to re-create what is hopefully a very close historic reproduction of this costume.
I am grateful to both of my models, to all of the researchers who assisted me in this endeavour to track down photos to study, to you my followers who continue to inspire me, and most of all to my mother who was very patient during my frantic midnight phone calls.
I will leave you with the quote that first came to mind when my models descended the staircase into the gallery last night, ‘ She [Alexandra] came down one day in a marvellous … long flowering train. She dazzled me utterly, I was speechless with adoration’.
As I am entering into my final project as a student I thought it would be a good idea to record my thoughts on my project and share my work with you. Our final costume is meant to be a representation of who we are as makers and as creators. I have had a life-long love affair with ballet and with the 18th century so I saw no better way to express myself than to combine the two. My hopes are to re-create a historical ballet costume that could be found in a modern production. I have chosen an 18th century design by Jean-Baptiste Martin entitled Paysanne Galante (1722) used in the Ballet de la Provencale and other dances. The second portrait is one of my favourites because in my mind she represent Payanne as a real costume. It’s one thing to have a drawing of an idea but it’s another to find a living woman wearing something similar.
More information on this project can be found on The Mended Soul
My mother pointed out last night that this design I am bringing to life is the epitome of an Ornamented Being. I can’t explain the reason but that thought warms my heart.
I am so proud of all of my friends who were able to participate in this gorgeous event!
For more information on The Netherfield Ball (for those with access to BBC2 it’s on right now!) please click me.
I am in my final year studying Costume Interpretation at Wimbledon College of Art in London. In our third year we are assigned three major projects.
The first project will be displayed at the opening of ‘In Fine Style’ at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. More information about that project can be found in this post here. Unfortunately my first and third costumes are still not mine to share but I can happily share with you details about the second costume.
The project was called Ordinary Lives. Part of the assignment was to have this costume completed in six weeks. Unfortunately on the last day of term I started over from WWI and choose to create an 1860s mourning gown which was my very first choice in the beginning.
Why mourning you might ask? I was born in a small town in Tennessee that has direct ties to the Civil War and as a child I often came across items associated with Victorian Mourning in the antique stores. As I grew up my mother encouraged this curiosity. During my breaks when I visit my parents I work with The Woodruff-Fontaine House in Memphis, Tennessee on preserving their amazing costume collection and helping with their exhibitions. Our assignment was to find an image of an everyday person and to recreate their clothing. When I came across Miss Maggie Webber in her second stage of mourning she spoke to me.
I will be discussing the unique features on her undergarments a little later but for now you can see those images here.
All of the long stitches on Maggie’s costume were made by machine but everything else was completed by hand. I am very fond of piping which is reflected in the hand piped armbands, the swiss waist, and neckline of Maggie’s collar. The trim on Maggie’s collar is from an extant costume. According to the dealer the trim came from a shattered 1863 mourning bodice. I find it very fitting that 150 years later it will once again grace a mourning garment. The veil was done by hand and took one and a half episodes of Criminal Minds to complete. The swiss waist was a bit of a challenge simply because I ended up creating my own pattern.
In total, this costume has taken seventeen days to complete. To date I feel that it is one of my strongest pieces and I am very pleased with the outcome. Even though the life of Maggie Webber will forever be shrouded in mystery it is my hope that by recreating her gown I have made sure her memory continues on.